A Kerala court has handed down the death penalty to 15 individuals associated with the Popular Front of India (PFI) for their involvement in the brutal murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ranjith Sreenivasan. The verdict was delivered by Mavelikkara Additional District Judge V G Sreedevi on Tuesday.
Ranjith Sreenivasan, a 40-year-old BJP leader and the state secretary of the BJP OBC Morcha, was hacked to death at his home in Vellakinar, Kerala, on the morning of December 19, 2021.
The attackers, identified as a 12-member gang with the now-banned extremist Popular Front of India (PFI) and its political arm, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), carried out the act with sharp weapons.
The brutality of the murder, which occurred in front of Ranjith Sreenivasan’s mother, wife, and young daughter, was shocking.
The murder of Ranjith Sreenivasan was perceived as a retaliatory act for the killing of SDPI state secretary KS Shan, which took place the previous day in Alappuzha district.
Shan’s murder, allegedly carried out by members associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the Hindu nationalist BJP.
Following investigations, the court convicted all 15 accused members of the PFI and SDPI on January 20, 2024.
The sentence, delivered by Additional District Judge V G Sreedevi, comes after the prosecution argued for the maximum penalty, describing the accused as a trained killer squad.
Special public prosecutor Prathap G Padickal stated that the accused were found guilty under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Section 302 (murder), criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, and other related offenses.
The court, taking into account the severity of the crime, deemed it as one of the rarest of the rare cases, warranting the death penalty.
The convicts were identified as Naisam, Ajmal, Anoop, Mohammad Aslam, Salam, Saffaruddin, Abdul Kalam, Manshad, Jaseeb Raja, Navas, Sameer, Nazir, Zakir Hussain, Shaji, and Shernas Ashraf.
The court differentiated their roles, with the first eight accused directly involved in the murder, the next four providing assistance outside the house, and the remaining three being convicted for criminal conspiracy.
Padickal detailed the charges, stating, “Accused number one to eight who barged into Ranjith’s house and hacked him to death have been found guilty of murder under section 302 of IPC.
Similarly, accused 9 to 12 who stood outside the house and provided help to accused 1 to 8 have been found guilty of murder with the help of Section 149 of IPC (unlawful assembly). Accused 13 to 15 were convicted for criminal conspiracy as well as murder.”
The accused were also found guilty of physically assaulting Ranjith Sreenivasan’s mother and sister during the crime, as well as damaging household items.
The court took into account the evidence presented during the trial, including testimonies from 156 witnesses, over 1,000 documents, and 100 material objects.
The prosecution, in seeking the death penalty, addressed the brutality of the attack, revealing that there were over 56 cuts on Ranjith Sreenivasan’s body.
The argument was on the fact that the accused had targeted a political leader in the most gruesome manner, committing the crime in front of his family members.
The murders of Ranjith Sreenivasan and SDPI leader KS Shan had political problems in Kerala, with both incidents occurring within a span of 24 hours.
The politics in the state, already by tensions between the BJP and SDPI. The SDPI, being the political wing of the PFI, has been accused of extremist ideologies and engaging in violence to its agenda.
The PFI, founded in 2006 in Kerala, has faced allegations of involvement in various criminal activities, including radicalization, recruitment, and carrying out violent acts against its political opponents.
The organization’s ban in 2019 by the central government was based on its alleged links to terror activities and its role in incidents such as the controversial conversion of a woman in Kerala, popularly known as the “Hadiya case.”
The court’s decision to award the death penalty to the 15 PFI members has evoked mixed reactions from the public.
While the family and supporters of Ranjith Sreenivasan expressed relief at the verdict, there were also voices of concern regarding the the judgment to be misused for political gains.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, known for his work in human rights and legal activism, commented on the case, stating, “While the conviction of those involved in such heinous crimes is necessary, the death penalty is a complex and contentious issue. We must ensure that our legal system is just and fair, taking into account the broader implications of capital punishment on society.”